Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Black Sunday (1960)

 

Many have said "Black Sunday" was the first movie Mario Bava directed. That's technically not true-he completed the 1956 film "Lust of the Vampire" before moving on to this film. "Sunday" however, is not only a better movie, but is a more essential film. In fact, it's the essential Italian horror film. Sure, "Suspiria" may be my all time favorite Italian genre film, but without "Sunday", there would be no "Suspiria." Hell, there wouldn't be much in the world of Italian horror to begin with, as this is the one that made the genre cool in that country, and has many of the themes and solid well, everything that went on to typify the best Italian horror movies.

The plot itself is pretty simple stuff really. Centuries ago, the witch Katia Vadja (Barbara Steele) has been tied to a stake and had The Mask of Satan (as seen above) hammered to her face. Before her death, she announces a curse on the town that has condemned her, and vows to one day return.Two centuries later, the good doctors Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and Gorbarec (John Richardson) investigate the tomb in which Katia has been buried, and inadvertently resurrect her. Now, with eyes on her look-alike descendent Princess Asa Vadja (Steele again), Katia plans to make the town pay.


Simply put, "Black Sunday" is Bava's masterpiece. The film essentially defines the term "Gothic", and is one of the best example of this genre. Everything from the gorgeous Black and White photography (done by Bava) to the set designs bleed atmosphere and dread. The entire film is loaded with a sense of unease, and the various eerie images (the eyeless corpse of Katia, her servant rising from the grave and her scarred face for example) creating a vibe of supernatural evil and sheer hopelessness at ease. If anything, it's one of the most assured directorial debuts in horror, as Bava manages to make a film that feels almost effortless in it's craftsmanship.

Hell, it still feels fresh. Everything from the fog drenched landscapes to the cobweb covered castle would normally feel old fashioned, but Bava manages to make the whole thing feel almost new and original. That's partially due to the films influences. While the likes of Hammer and it's Gothic atmosphere are a clear inspiration, the film also owes heavily to the expressionistic silent horrors that came from Germany. If there's any post silent films horror movie outside of "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein" that can be compared to the likes of "Nosferatu", "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and "Häxan", it's "Black Sunday." Here, the art house and horror meet seamlessly, creating a world that's as beautiful and ethereal as it is haunting and atmospheric.


Anyone who says they love horror that hasn't seen "Black Sunday" owes themselves to ASAP. Hell, anyone who says they love movies in general should see it. There's a reason everyone from Stephen King to Martin Scorsese praises the works of Bava, and you are missing one of the genre's biggest treats if you haven't seen most of his work-especially this film.

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